Marty Rodgers just got a big promotion. After 18 years of dedicated service, Eva Mortenson just got laid off. And last week, entrepreneur Ben Collins launched PetTags, his new vision of commercial splendor.
At first blush, these career events might not seem to have much in common. But peel back the individual drama and there's a common thread: each of these fictitious individuals is in the midst of change.
Happy or sad, forced or chosen, each professional will move through a similar pattern - an ending, a period of confusion and a new beginning –- for these dynamics are at the heart of every career, and indeed, every life transition.
As creatures who are happiest avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure, we tend to leap to the new beginning as quickly as possible. Yet, unless the first two stages are honored, no real new beginning is ever achieved.
Marty may have a new title or Ben a new business, but more likely than not, these changes are only external masks – no internal realignment has grabbed hold.
Endings always leave something or someone behind. Understanding what or who that is and saying a proper 'good-bye' is critical whether you chose the ending or not.
For Marty Rodgers, this might mean grieving for a lost sense of identity and control. Eva's grief may be for lost financial security and diminished self-worth. For Ben Collins, it might mean honoring a past that has brought him to his current fortune: thanking former colleagues for their support or creating an assimilation plan for his successor.
In fact, it is precisely by honoring endings at the feeling level, whether joyful or sorrowful, that this trio allows themselves to move forward with their integrity intact and to anticipate their future gains much more intensely.
Now, here's the hard message: Despite such noble farewells, a slippery slope lies ahead for this trio. That's because 'good-byes' don't automatically catapult you into your new beginning. Between the old and the new is a period where nothing feels quite right. In his book Transitions, Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges describes it as a period of emptiness and often, confusion. Marty's learning curve on the new job, for example, or Ben's search for just the right strategy to crack open his market.
This stage – of experimenting, of finding your way - may not feel ideal, but it does lend perspective on where you've come from and where you're going. What's important is to recognize it and to be able to put language around it, especially in those moments of greatest frustration.
It is new learning taking hold, undoing old paradigms and creating new ones, a bridge connecting the old with the new. When seen in this light, is easier to stick it out, knowing that it is part of a process, unavoidable and full of promise.
Intriguingly, it is only at the end of our transition process that we reach our new beginning. Backwards to all that is intuitive and comfortable - yet this new beginning is not an independent point of light, but the result of the process of honoring the old and readying oneself for the new.
Marty assumes a new level of leadership competence and asserts himself in fresh and innovative ways. Ben "gets" that his old paradigms – of work style, marketing and managing – are worn formulas that do not optimize success in his new world. And Eva uses her "opportunity" to find work that energizes her in ways she never thought possible.
Such beginnings are accessible to everyone, and the truth is, everyone has a little trouble with them. Like breaking in new shoes - take a few steps at a time, and know that a marvelous fit is just around the corner.